Friday, May 22, 2015
Executive Ordered to Justify Raises Or Face Legal Action
This issue first surfaced in early April, when Controller Steve Barron discovered that Brown had given his Deputy Director of Administration, Cathy Allen, a 19% pay hike over the course of his first year in office. Brown and Allen worked together when he was Bangor's Mayor. He had proposed her as his Director of Administration, but Council rejected her. Under county law, a raise of that magnitude requires approval of County Council to prevent the executive from playing favorites. Brown countered this raise is permissible under the arcane provision of a policy and procedure written by the Executive.
As time went on, it became apparent that raises were being unilaterally handed out to other employees as well. Two weeks ago, it unanimously signaled its intention to nullify an undetermined number of raises that Executive John Brown has handed out to top officials during his first two years in office. The precise number was unknown because Brown refused to provide it.
After that meeting, Brown huddled with county lawyers and Council VP Glenn Geissinger. Though each side insisted it is right, Council Solicitor Phil Lauer reported to Council that Brown did have a reasonable basis for his position and was acting in good faith. Brown released a list of 14 County workers who received raises from him alone. He agreed to resurrect the dormant Personnel Commission so it could review some of these policies and procedures.
When Council convened again on May 21, they voted to go into executive session, i.e. behind closed doors, to discuss the matter. Ken Kraft, Lamont McClure and BobWerner were outvoted when they argued there was reason to meet in secret.
When they came out after nearly an hour, they voted unanimously to direct Brown to provide justification for these increases by June 18. If he fails, Phil Lauer has been directed to sue to have all raises nullified. If he does have to sue, layer has also been directed to seek a surcharge for the $100,000 in public funds expended on these raises.
A surcharge is a rare sanction imposed against public officials who abuse funds.
For his part, Brown was incensed by a remark that Lamont McClure had earlier made to The Morning Call, suggesting that the Executive's actions might be considered criminal. He called that "completely ridiculous," characterizing it as "nothing more than political nonsense that he spews regularly." He admitted that he and Lauer disagree, but neither Lauer nor his own Solicitor is a judge. "We need to drop the 'This is illegal' nonsense," he argued, complaining bitterly about "political pandering, name-calling, innuendo and under the breath remarks" at every council meeting. He noted Council is quibbling over $100,000. in an administration that saved $8.5 million in salary and benefits last year without laying people off.
He justified the raises as necessary, noting that most of them went to workers at Gracedale whose departments have "improved dramatically." He claimed that his raises led to a recent clean bill of health given to Gracedale by the state.
"Where was council when health care costs grew at a rate of $1.5 million per year?" he asked. "Where was the heated debate over the shrinking general fund?" he asked, noting that the general fund has shrunk from Council let shrink from $70 million to less than $10 million.
He blasted Council for being "focused on the pennies" instead of the bigger picture. He insisted that, contrary to the image painted by Council, the County is "well run, efficient and highly functional" and that he has a "strategic plan" in place.
Lamont McClure, who was participating in the meeting by phone was unable to respond to Brown because his connection was lost and no one seemed to know how to restore it in a county that brown had just called "well run, efficient and highly functional. " But Scott Parsons, who had turned beet red as Brown spoke, refuted the executive:
"If you want us to work with you, and I'm willing to work with anybody who wants to move this County forward, you have to be transparent to us and let us help you."
Brown then stated transparency means different things to different people.